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Tariffs and Sanctions: A New Energy Trade War?

Tariffs and Sanctions: A New Energy Trade War?

The Trump Administration trade policy is nowhere so clear as in the energy area.  For years it was thought that the younger Bush Administration was one of the most energy industry friendly in history.  But the Trump Administration has gone far beyond that.

Hiring Ray Tillerson, the former CEO of ExxonMobil, as US Secretary of State, sent a strong signal to the entire industry, even though his tenure proved to be temporary.

Prior to that, the Administration withdrew from the Paris Climate Agreement, a long held priority of Exxon and the entire oil industry.  Following hard upon that, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has reduced or eliminated regulations limiting carbon and other pollutants.

Exxon has for more than a decade underwritten the now discredited, right wing attack on climate change as a hoax.  Although the energy industry has now publicly acknowledged climate change as a global threat, in practice the subject is still largely ignored.

Going further, the Trump Administration has removed and reduced regulations that hampered the industry expansion, including allowing drilling on both ocean coast, while easing safety regulations that were brought into effect after BP’s Gulf of Mexico disastrous spill, the worst in US history.

Regulations have also been relaxed for flaring of natural gas from oil drilling sites, a major contributor atmospheric carbon.

Government protected nature preserves are being opened to exploration and drilling for the first time in generations. Added to that was the dropping of regulations that for many years prohibited export of US crude. Since then, the US has become a major player in the global energy industry.

The Administration currently plans to rescind and lower fuel efficiency standards for autos and trucks. That is likely to encourage increased purchase of larger SUVs, increased oil consumption, and rising gasoline prices.

The Administration corporate tax cut, one of the largest in US history, also strongly benefitted  the energy industry, as it did other industries.

From the moment he chose to run for President, Trump has embraced the new shale revolution in the US as a major contributor to the country’s economic growth and energy independence.

Increasingly, Trump has become the top promoter for  increasing exports of  US Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) to world markets.  He openly threatened to place economic sanctions on Germany if it went ahead with the deal for Russia’s new Nordstream 2 pipeline, that would nearly double natural gas supplies from Russia, Germany’s largest  supplier.

As most observers noted, the US sanction threat was accompanied by the offer of US LNG to Germany and Europe, as a replacement for Russian gas.

No doubt that Trump’s outrageous bullying offended European sensibility, but despite the German protest regarding outside interference in its domestic  economic affairs, and its intention to complete the Russian pipeline, Germany is quietly building up LNG importing facilities, “as a gesture to American friends.”

Most energy experts agree that it is inevitable that US LNG will eventually become a component of European markets, despite its significantly higher price to Russian and Norwegian gas, if for no other reasons to keep the peace with America, Europe’s largest ally, and assure Europe’s access to the US market.

This will also serve to assuage the US complaints about unfair trade.  It matters little that the US trade deficit with Germany centers on its auto industry rather than energy, if the sale of natural gas serves to reduce the US trade deficit.

The same could be said about the US/China trade deficit. China, the largest energy consumer, is the one country where solutions to the trade deficit is clearly at hand, involving increased US LNG imports. China already has a longterm, 20 year deal to import LNG from the leading US LNG company, Cheniere Energy.

China could easily reduce the amount of gas imports from variety of other suppliers (i.e., Qatar, Australia, New Guinea, Iran, Russia) and replace these with US supplies. That would be a near costless transaction for China, as it is already paying other producers for natural gas and LNG supplies.

Consider the effects of a possible LNG deal could have on the trade dispute.  In terms of the current deficit, China sales to the US is estimated at around $350 billion, while US sales to the China is around $150 billion.

Last May, the China signed a  $25 billion deal for   importing US LNG. If we assumed that in current negotiations the two countries could strike a modest deal for another $25 billion in annual US LNG sales to China, US sales to China increases to $200 billion, reducing China’s surplus to $300 billion.

If that were to take place, the trade deficit would reduced to around $100 billion, and Trump would no doubt return to the election campaign trail to boast of the first US trade victory over China.

The risk to this scenario is the presumption that everyone involved really wants a solution to the trade dispute, but there is widespread suspicions that US tariffs on China may be less about fair trade and more about economic warfare to contain China’s growth.

George Friedman’s “Geopolitical Futures” recently noted that  “The U.S. is beginning to see it [tariffs] more as a strategic opportunity to contain Chinese assertiveness than as a play to invigorate U.S. manufacturing.”

There remains a stalwart band of left wing journalists, led by the ever brilliant, Pepe Escobar, who maintain that Europe, Russia, China, and Iran will band together to thwart US sanctions on Iran, and that ‘Iran’s oil sales will be totally unaffected. They also hold strongly to the opinion that China will not yield to US threats and ultimatum.

This despite the fact that major energy companies, like Royal Dutch Shell and Total have already fled Iran in fear of US sanctions, while major countries are severely cutting Iran imports.

Currently, Japan and India have agreed to major reductions of energy imports from Iran.  Recent news  has it that Sinopec, China’s largest oil and gas refiner, under threats of US sanctions, also agreed to severely cut imports from Iran.  It’s no secret that nearly all of Iran’s competitors, it’s OPEC ‘partners’, will go after those under supplied markets, as will the US.

Sanctions against Iran will certainly reduce its exports substantially, with the worst case estimates of a loss to the markets of 1.5 million barrels of oil per day. This will also open opportunities in under supplied  markets that will almost certainly be exploited by US and other competitors.

See Also

Some observers believe that because the upcoming election is uppermost in the minds of both US political parties, a trade victory with China is extremely important  to the Republican election campaign. If so, their thinking goes, a deal will result in easing tariffs with China by November.

Trump himself recently stated that he’s ready to talk trade with China, but continues to add the qualifier, “not now.” Many Trump watchers interpret this to mean that getting tough with China’ plays well to Trump’s base, boosts the Republican election prospects, and afterwards a trade deal is likely to be struck.

Any trade deal with China could also be used by the US as a template for deals with Japan, India, and South Korea, the next largest Asian importers  of natural gas. It can hardly be coincidence that, as in Europe, these energy importing countries are threatened by US tariffs over unfair trade.

However, Geopolitical Futures states that “the broad impression in China appears to be that Trump isn’t actually interested in a deal – certainly not one that China could accept – and that this is just the first major salvo in an emerging Cold War and that instead … the world needs to get ready for a new cold war with China.

In a recent speech, Richard Haas, President of New York-based think tank, Council on Foreign Relations, stated that “…the Trump administration initially focused just on trade, “but now it’s broadening, and it almost seems as if the administration wants to have something of a cold war with China.”

What about Venezuela, a country estimated to have the largest oil reserves in the world, also laboring under US sanctions? It’s also a country about which the Administration has made no secret of its plans for a possible US military invasion to topple the Maduro government.

Why go public with that story now, with only a little more than a month towards US Congressional elections?

There is widespread speculation that this announcement may be a trial ballon, as part of the preparation for laying the ground work for an invasion aimed at bolstering Republican election prospects. To date, there has been no sign of opposition to these threats from Democrats.

Conclusion:

It’s no accident that sanctions are aimed at the US largest energy competitors, Russia and Iran, nor is it coincidence that the largest energy importers, Europe, China, Japan, and South Korea are also under threat of US tariffs or sanctions.

Instead, it clearly shows that the US is using the threat of economic warfare and possible military conflict as leverage to open markets to the newest player on the world’s energy market, American LNG.

If the US is successful in these deals, it’s likely that in future, there will be a parallel attempts to make inroads for US crude export to the very same oil importing countries, relying upon the very same LNG game plan.

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Sally Snyder
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Sally Snyder

As shown in this letter, America’s largest retailer has publicly admitted that consumers will be the big losers in Donald Trump’s trade war with China:

https://viableopposition.blogspot.com/2018/10/walmart-winners-and-losers-in-us-china.html

This is yet another example of unintended consequences of a poorly executed government mandate.

TheCelotajs
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TheCelotajs

When one has no knowledge or experience in foreign trade this is what one gets when he has people around him that have their own agenda and this is what I see happening today. Trump is President in name only other wise he is being lead around by his nose by others.

Jane Karlsson
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Jane Karlsson

This is all going to backfire when US shale gas starts to run out, which may happen a lot sooner than Mr Berke thinks.

http://www.artberman.com/permian-reserves-may-much-smaller-think/

Jane Karlsson
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Jane Karlsson

Exxon thinks climate change is a hoax, does it. Well perhaps it has a point.

“Just ahead of a new report from the IPCC, dubbed SR#15 about to be released today, we have this bombshell- a detailed audit shows the surface temperature data is unfit for purpose. The first ever audit of the world’s most important temperature data set (HadCRUT4) has found it to be so riddled with errors and “freakishly improbable data” that it is effectively useless.”

https://wattsupwiththat.com/2018/10/11/bombshell-audit-of-global-warming-data-finds-it-riddled-with-errors/

Also see https://www.cato.org/publications/commentary/why-enron-wants-global-warming

and https://wattsupwiththat.com/2016/09/22/study-tropical-hotspot-fingerprint-of-global-warming-doesnt-exist-in-the-real-world-data/

Smokingeagle
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Smokingeagle

Exxon thinks climate change is a hoax, does it? Has it changed its mind since the 1980s? Check out this article dated 18/09/2018: Shell and Exxon’s secret 1980s climate change warnings: Newly found documents from the 1980s show that fossil fuel companies privately predicted the global damage that would be caused by their products. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2018/sep/19/shell-and-exxons-secret-1980s-climate-change-warnings In the 1980s, oil companies like Exxon and Shell carried out internal assessments of the carbon dioxide released by fossil fuels, and forecast the planetary consequences of these emissions. In 1982, for example, Exxon predicted that by about 2060, CO2 levels would reach around 560… Read more »

Jonathan Bethune
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Jonathan Bethune

There trying to spur growth by expanding there capacities toward self reliance. There is a new tax framework In place now that has lowered the corporate tax and raised the base wages of Americans to spur the consumption required to grow the new base of American business. I think there seeking a new equilibrium to replace the old given the new geopolitical framework that has emerged in the last ten years. I’m hoping they will stop when they have achieved the new balance and we all move forward in our own domains. Greed as always being the bogeyman of the… Read more »

Herbert Dorsey
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Herbert Dorsey

While Trumpo’s policies might help the U.S. Energy companies, they also hasten the eventual destruction of our planet via increased pollution. People who still deny global warming have their head’s buried in the sand. Scientific data shows that the ocean tempratures are on the increase and that leads to much stronger and more frequent hurricanes. The destruction caused by these hurricanes is much more expensive than the profit benefits to oil corporations incurred by increased air pollution with greenhouse gasses.

TheCelotajs
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TheCelotajs

In other words it is Trump’s Energy or NO ENERY AT ALL since Trump has become the top promoter for increasing exports of US Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) to world markets or to put it into simpler terms, US LNG or we will put sanctions on you until you are forced to buy only US LNG!

Michael
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Michael

Berke by name Berke by nature. Lot of wishful thinking here. By the way CO2 does NOT drive climate. We are entering a solar minimum that has at a minimum 30-40 years to run.

Berke
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Berke

You keep getting your information from the pizza delivery boy instead of the scientist like those who just won a Noble Prize for studies on climate change.

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